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Judge withholds casino signatures

A judge has refused to turn over 30,000 voter signatures that favor a statewide casino referendum to a group backing the proposal.

The signatures are the focus of a dispute between Orlando political consultant Doug Guetzloe and the group called Florida Locally Approved Gaming, or FLAG.

Guetzloe claims FLAG owes him $180,000 for collecting signatures and that it illegally seized the 30,000 petitions from his office.

FLAG, which is backed by the Chicago-based Bally Entertainment Corp., sued Guetzloe, claiming it paid him $850,000 to collect 360,000 voter petitions. Guetzloe collected 300,000, FLAG claims. Officials for the group said the 30,000 signatures now in the hands of a mediator belong to them.

Circuit Judge Linda Gloeckner ruled that the signatures should remain in the hands of a third party pending settlement of the lawsuit.

"If we would have lost the petitions . . . that would have negated our lawsuit," Guetzloe said.

FLAG obtained 400,000 signatures during last year's campaign to get a proposal for limited casinos on the ballot. It needs 430,000 signatures for the 1998 ballot.

FLAG leaders have said they will get the necessary petitions to get on the next ballot with or without the signatures involved in the lawsuit.